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Need a Philly Sports Fix? Here’s a Union Primer

Oct 14, 2011, 1:54 PM EDT

Where can you turn during a Philly sports crisis like this? Where and how should you reallocate your suddenly available sports watching hours? How about the Union? A Philadelphia soccer primer.

The Phillies crashed and burned in the NLDS. The Eagles are 1-4. The Flyers, who are off to a phenomenal start, are just three games into an 82 game season. The Sixers? Well, the NBA might be a while.

So, where can you turn during a sports crisis like this? Where and how should you reallocate your suddenly available sports watching hours?

How about the Union?

Now, I realize that for whatever reason a large percentage of you are anti-soccer. That’s fine. I am not here to convert you. I am simply saying that if you are reading this site you are a sports fan. You enjoy watching teams or individuals compete.

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You particularly enjoy watching games where the home team is good, the stands are full, the crowd is invested, and the tension is palpable. How much fun is it to watch the Phillies play at Citizens Bank Park in front of a sellout crowd hanging on each pitch? How great is it to watch a game being played at the Palestra?

It’s a fairly easy equation. Competitive Philadelphia Team + Boisterous Crowd = Compelling Sports Television.

Week in and week out PPL Park is bonkers. The Union average 18,201 fans. The team is in first place. It’s a good time to hop on board.

In the event you are worried, I can assure you that you will not turn into that pinko commie soccer loving caricature by simply watching a game. I promise.

In case you are joining this season already in progress here’s what you need to know.

WHERE THEY STAND

The Union, in just their second season, sit in first place in the MLS Eastern Conference. They host Toronto FC tomorrow in the final home game of the regular season. Win and they clinch a playoff berth.

I am not going to get into all the possible playoff permutations. What you need to know is that if the Union win their last two games they’ll finish first in the East.

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WHO TO WATCH

The best player is Sebastien Le Toux. He’s a classic Philly fan favorite. Yes, he leads the team in both goals and assists, but what makes him special is his effort. Le Toux has played every minute of every league game. His work rate is off the charts. He never stops running. Ever.

ORGANIZATIONAL PHILOSOPHY

Fifteen of the twenty-seven players on the roster are 23 years old or younger. Yes, their most important players (Le Toux, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Brian Carroll, and Faryd Mondragon) are all older than 23, but the organization has placed a premium on identifying young talent.

No matter the sport you need to be strong up the middle. It’s no coincidence that the Union deploy their veteran players in the middle of the field. Mondragon, Califf, Valdes, Carroll, and Le Toux are the spine of the formation.

The rest of the starting lineup is composed primarily of young players. The other six starting spots usually come down to some combination of the under-23 group of players.

THE KEY YOUNGSTERS

Freddy Adu (22 years old) – Yes, he’s still only 22. He scored last week against Seattle and is rounding into form.

Michael Farfan (23 years old) – A revelation on the outside. Crafty beyond his years.

Gabriel Farfan (23 years old) – Michael’s twin brother has filled the void created by the trade of Jordan Harvey.

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Zac MacMath (20 years old) PICTURED – Has stepped in and gone 3-0-4 in relief of the injured Mondragon.

Jack McInerney (19 years old) – A striker with an uncanny ability to get behind opposing defenses.

Danny Mwanga (20 years old) – The former first overall pick is coming back from injury. The most physically talented of the Union forwards.

Amobi Okugo (20 years old) – A ball-winning midfielder who could develop into a box-to-box midfielder.

Zach Pfeffer (16 years old) – The Upper Dublin native has seen some important minutes down the stretch. A future playmaker in the midfield.

Roger Torres (20 years old) – The most creative player on the team. Brings a much-needed offensive mindset to the midfield.

Sheanon Williams (21 years old) – Runs all day. Gets forward. His long throw-ins are a dangerous weapon.

THE COACH

Peter Nowak has won an MLS Cup as both a player (Chicago Fire) and coach (D.C. United). He’s a hardnosed coach who wants his players to attack, attack, attack. He’s probably the most intimidating coach in Philadelphia since Mike Keenan. Would destroy Keenan in a tough-guy staredown.

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WHERE TO WATCH

Saturday’s game against Toronto will be on Comcast SportsNet (4PM). You could also do a lot worse than spending a Saturday afternoon tailgating outside of PPL Park prior to kickoff.

Tickets are tough to come by, but there’s always a handful available online. The weather should be nice — mid-60’s, no rain.

The game will be over at 6ish, which transitions nicely into the Flyers/Kings game and Mike Richards’ return to Philly.

Union soccer. Seriously.

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Photos from the Union on Facebook and US Presswire